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Mack the Flack

Our blog, Mack the Flack, explores PR, journalism, and communications trends in the digital age

Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category

Reimaging University in a Digital World

Friday, January 24th, 2014

No more teachers, no more books…as the online world continues to reshape our world universities seem next in line for massive changes.

Mack notes three digital education trends:

• Online courses and programs are increasingly popular – possibly someday leaving lecture halls and computer labs empty and irrelevant.

• The growing trend of institutions, or, in the case of BC, entire governments, offering free and low-cost textbooks has cut into already slumping on campus bookstore sales.

• Online learning hubs such as one introduced in Ontario, offers access to online courses which are fully transferable between provincial universities and colleges, potentially greatly reducing the need for faculty across provincial systems.

Needless to say not everyone who builds universities, runs university bookstores or is on faculty are thrilled by, or convinced of, these digital innovations.

When the Ontario government recently announced its $42 million Centre of Excellence for Online Learning to deliver online courses the body representing Ontario faculty associations criticized the move, saying the government should have included faculty input in planning the initiative.

Bureaucrats Discover the Social Media Release

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Mack’s last blog featured Coca-Cola’s decision to dump the news release in favour of its brand journalism digital news magazine.

While the Canadian government is also ditching the traditional news release, it’s not quite ready to do away with news releases altogether. This month the government will shift to issuing social media (SoMo) style releases, which are better suited to the digital age, according to a government spokesperson.

The new style So-Mo releases will feature two or three introductory paragraphs followed by bulleted “quick facts”, quotes and links to other information and graphics. Key messages and facts from the releases will also be used as posts on government Twitter and Facebook accounts.

According to the government spokesperson the news release is evolving, not disappearing. A fact, no doubt, that is a relief to political journalists everywhere.

Do We Still Need Press Releases?

Friday, January 10th, 2014

Mack, as a kid, had a daily newspaper route. Think about this for a moment. News would stop, get printed on pages of paper that were folded, bundled, dropped off in a neighbourhood and then delivered the next day by a kid on a bicycle.

Weird – yesterdays’ news tomorrow.

Nowadays, thanks to social media and mobile devices, news is both unrelenting and every-changing. This means organizations, governments, non-profits, political parties and corporations don’t need the news media to reach the public.

The mobility and multitude of digital information has relegated the media to mostly regurgitating press releases. Even that role may soon disappear.

Coca-Cola recently launched a web-based digital news magazine which features “brand journalism” (journalistic-style stores about an organization, its activities, products and services). Media coverage based on the brand journalism – including one about a shareable double can of Coke that was featured in Mashable, The Daily Mail, Adweek and The Huff Post – has boomed.

Which begs the question – do we still need the press release?

Coca-Cola doesn’t think so. According to a Ragan.com the multinational plans to ditch them altogether.

Not Even a Mouse

Friday, December 13th, 2013

A Visit from St. Nicholas was written one snowy day in 1823 by professor Clement Clarke Moore. The poem is largely responsible for most of the features and attributes of the modern day Santa Claus.

Moore’s poem begins: “Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”

Douglas Engelbart, a technology inventor who died at 88 this year knew a few things about the mouse.

He invented the computer mouse and first demonstrated it in 1968.

By the late 1980s the mouse had become the standard way to control a desktop computer.

But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight. “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”

Mack will return in January 2014.

We’ve Come Undone

Friday, December 6th, 2013

Mack hates ties. They are expensive, uncomfortable, attract soup spills and represent a musty, long ago era. When Mack worked in PR, he added a “tie surcharge” to his invoice if clients insisted he wear one on the job.

So you can imagine his delight at a recent Guardian story about how the British civil service, led by the often-tieless Prime Minister, may stop wearing ties. Seems the national neckwear of jolly old is going the way of the dinner jacket top hat and cravat.

Perhaps it’s the digital era that’s sweeping old conventions – from buying daily newspapers and renting DVDs to wearing ties – aside. Mack, for one, welcomes the tieless age.

Social Media Outrage

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

Photo courtesy of entrepreneur.com

A US TV host and bank have recently learned how quickly a social media message can turn around and bite you. Hard.

Melissa Bachman, a TV host and producer posted photos of herself on Facebook and Twitter posing behind a dead male lion she killed in South Africa.

Within hours, a furious online reaction forced Ms. Bachman to deactivate her Facebook and Twitter pages. “You, lady, are what’s wrong with the world”, was one sample tweet.  Bachman was cut as a contestant from National Geographic’s Ultimate Survival Alaska show last year after 13,000 protested, calling her a “heartless trophy hunter”.

When JPMorgan Chase bank asked Twitter users to send questions to #AskJPM it didn’t go well. The bank gave up six hours later after receiving 6,000 nasty tweets such as “Can I have my house back?” and “Is it true “JPM stands for Just Pay More?”

The social media misstep is the latest woe for the bank currently facing at least eight US Justice Department investigations.

End of the PC Era

Thursday, November 21st, 2013

Photo courtesy of St Lucia Star

The era of the personal computer is powering down. Steve Jobs predicted it three years ago and in 2012 more than 120 million tablets were sold, seven times the number sold two years earlier.

Sales of tablets will surpass those of PCs by the end of 2013, according to market research firm IDC.  Mack uses a tablet at home, often to purchase goods and services. He’s not alone.

According to Stats Canada online shopping is up 24% in Canada compared with last year and the average Canadian now spends $1,450 online per year.

The top five online purchases, by percentage of users, in Canada are:

  1. Travel arrangements – 58%
  2. Tickets for Entertainment – 52%
  3. Books, Magazines and online newspapers – 42%
  4. Music – 35%
  5. Memberships or Registration Fees – 35%

Mack’s going to spend some time on the tablet this evening. He’s thinking about a trip to somewhere warm.

Gus the Swimming Bear

Friday, November 15th, 2013

Gus - photo courtesy of Leo Reynolds

Climate change is not good, especially for polar bears. The big whites face an uncertain future in Canada’s Arctic as global warming increases the number of ice-free days – which keep the bears away from seals, their primary food source.

Fortunately, the world knows about the plight of the polar bears thanks to extensive social media campaigns and internet sites such as explore.org which live-streams amazing video of polar bears awaiting the freeze up of Hudson Bay near Churchill, Manitoba.

Another polar bear named Gus, a longtime resident of the New York Zoo, became an internet sensation for his swimming. He would swim for up to 12 hours a day, every day, in his watery habitat in Central Park.

Gus died this summer at the age of 27. An animal behaviorist, hired by the Zoo, concluded Gus swam because he was bored.

Mack hopes the polar bears of Hudson Bay won’t have to take up Gus’s swimming habit to get the food they need to survive.

Crisis Management Genius

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Foster Family / Star Ledger

A week ago Larry G. Foster, a former journalist and PR executive at Johnson & Johnson, died at the age of 88. He was one of Mack’s PR idols.

Larry Foster was the man who, more than 30 years ago, reinvented the way most organizations deal with crisis. In 1982, police in Chicago connected a string of deaths to cyanide-laced Extra Strength Tylenol capsules that had been tampered with at various retail outlets.

Consumer panic ensued and the crime threatened to kill off the Tylenol brand. Larry Foster reacted with a strategy now the model of corporate crisis management: put consumer safety first, respond to the media quickly and be entirely honest.

J&J pulled all its Tylenol ads and spent more than $100 million to recall more than 30 million bottles from the market. Then the chairman of J&J appeared on national TV to explain the steps the company had taken.

Foster’s strategy worked. J&J reintroduced the brand two months later in “tamper-resistant” packaging and within a year had recaptured 30% of the then $1.2 billion pain-reliever market.

Scary News for Facebook

Thursday, October 31st, 2013


The other day Mack’s teenage daughter announced she was “over” Facebook. Seems she isn’t alone with her rejection. The latest semi-annual report on teens from Piper Jeffray reveals that Facebook’s popularity among teens has dropped to just 23% from a high of 42% just a year ago.

Twitter, another social media platform, has become teens’ new BFF, growing to 26% of the market. Instagram has developed into another popular social network platform with teens, tied with Facebook as the #2 choice.

Meanwhile the University of Illinois reports much of Twitter’s traffic is dominated among a small subset of 15% of Twitter users who produce 85% of tweets. Mack suspects his daughter and other teens account for a sizeable chunk of this busy 15% of tweeters.

Image courtesy of Moma Propaganda